Playing Ball with the Jazz
Gordan Giricek talks about life in the NBA
Gordan Giricek, right, with Jazz assistant coach Scott Layden.
By Frank Vinko Mustac
Gordan Giricek, who plays shooting guard for the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association (NBA), was in Washington, D.C., on January 9 to play the Washington Wizards.
For the game, which Utah Jazz won 97-89. Giricek had 8 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists and 1 blocked shot. For the season, Giricek averages 10.6 points per contest.
Before the game, the 6-foot 5-inch 210-pound 28-year-old Zagreb native spoke with the Croatian Chronicle about life as an NBA player, the phone call he received a while ago from NBA rookie Andrew Bogut and living so far from his daughter, family and friends back in Croatia.
Giricek also had some choice words to say about the media as well as the many people back in his homeland who do not often speak kindly towards successful Croatians.
Croatian Chronicle: What is life for you like in the NBA?
Gordan Gircek: Pretty good. Everything is organized and the only thing you have to worry about is playing the games, everything else they do for you.
CC: You probably did not have time to go back to Croatia for the Christmas holidays. How did you spend the holidays?
GG: No, we didn't have time. The only time off we have is the All Star break in February and after the season. So I didn't have time to go home, but I spent Christmas at my friend's house in Salt Lake City. It was nice.
CC: Did you have what could be considered a traditional Croatian Christmas meal?
GG: Yeah, we had pork and francuska salata (French salad) and prsut (procuitto), eggs, and all the things you eat for Christmas.
CC: Talk about the story that appeared in a Salt Lake City newspaper that Milwaukee Bucks rookie Andrew Bogut, who is Australian of Croatian descent, left you a message on your answering machine and that you didn't return his phone call. What happened?
GG: They made a big deal of it. Even in the Croatian newspapers.
Bogut probably got angry or something. I don't know. I really don't want to go into it, because it's ridiculous for me.
I told my side of the story. I'm the only guy that knows what happened.
He tried to leave a message in Croatian, and let's be honest, he didn't speak Croatian well at that time. I didn't understand any word, so I thought someone was messing with me.
I listened to the message twice or three times and I erased it because I really couldn't understand any words he was saying. I erased the phone number also with the message. So basically I didn't call back the number.
CC: The same newspaper article reported that you met Bogut at a restaurant in Salt Lake City after that.
GG: No I didn't meet him after that. You know newspapers. They always add something to make a story. No, we didn't meet after that, only when we played against each other.
CC: Talk about how you came from Zagreb to play in the NBA.
GG: I started professionally when I was 16. I considered that professional because I started to practice twice a day for a professional club. Then I came to play for Cibona, the main club in Zagreb.
Then at 24, I signed with CSKA in Moscow, Russia. Then the year after that, I went to the NBA, to the Memphis Grizzlies. And then they traded me to Orlando, then Orlando traded me to Utah.
This is my second year, going on my third, playing for Utah. I like it. I would like to stay here.
NBA Utah Jazz player Gordan Giricek, from Zagreb, after a team shoot around at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., January 9.
CC: How would you compare playing in Europe to playing in the NBA?
GG: It's way harder. The guys you play against in the NBA are very tough, very competitive. Every night you have a hard job, especially playing defense against shooting guards. You have to guard all these guys that score above 20 points a game. So it's very hard.
We're also traveling a lot. Every other day we're in an airplane. But that's why the NBA teams make it very easy for us. They do everything for us, because they know it's a hard rhythm, so we need to rest and we need to concentrate on the games.
I mean I like it. It's better than the European leagues. The NBA is tougher, but it's better organized.
At the end, it's safer money. It's guaranteed, so whatever you sign for, at the end of the season you end up getting. It's okay. It's good.
CC: Were there any particular cultural challenges you faced or things that surprised you about the United States?
GG: No. I'm a pretty easy-going guy. I can adapt. I can adjust to any culture. I don't have problems with that.
But I know I won't be able to live here after my career that's for sure. The main reason is because it's so far away from Europe, and I still have my family and all my friends back in Croatia.
After the season, all the Utah Jazz players go away from Salt Lake City. If I stay there, I have no one to hang out with. And I'm too old to make new friends right now outside of basketball.
I have my old friends from my high school and my childhood, and all of them are in Croatia. Also, my parents and my daughter are back in Croatia. My heart is back in Croatia. I go back every summer.
CC: What do you miss about Croatia?
GG: I miss the country. I miss my friends and my family. I don't miss other people, to be honest with you. Definitely I'm going to have one other option in Europe to live somewhere.
In our country, Croatia, they don't treat you too well. I don't say they have to admire me, but at least have respect, because they always try to find some bad things to say about you.
CC: You mean the media?
GG: Everybody. Generally people are very jealous. I know it's a very hard situation in Croatia economically, but when you have money, people usually assume you stole something from somebody, that you don't deserve that money. And it's just not a good atmosphere for me.
I'm in the kind of position of someone who goes back for two months, and I start feeling that pressure. People are always asking for something, and if you don't want to do something then you're acting like a star.
I would like to please everybody, but sometimes it's not possible. I have to have my own rhythm, my own life.
People start talking, and then the rumors spread very fast. Then you end up being a bad guy, but you're not that kind of guy.
So I have to have some other options. I'll probably move to Spain. That's my dream right now. So we're going to see.
For me, life is not playing chess, making all the right moves.
I'm going to try and fulfill a dream to live in two places, Croatia and Spain.
CC: Do you hear the same kind of thing from other Croatian professional athletes?
GG: I didn't hear, we didn't talk about it, but I think they have the same situation, the way I see it.
I think all successful people are pushed away from living in Croatia, because people start talking badly to the newspapers. Every newspaper is a gossip newspaper.
Successful people try to run away from it. They don't want to invest there. It's not good for us. That's what I think.
The country is the greatest. I never saw a country with more qualities than Croatia, but something is always missing.
What I can tell from socializing with people, Croatians don't appreciate ... I mean here, if you're a legend, you're always a legend.
In Croatia, I'm not talking about myself, I'm talking about guys that did some good things in their careers. They make a few mistakes, then they're considered the worst people. But what about the things they did before? I mean you have to respect something.
Many Croatian people don't respect anything. They just try to pull you down. That's the only thing I don't like.
CC: Growing up, who did you admire as a player?
GG: Drazen Petrovic, definitely. He was the only guy who was put on the table for me at that time. When I was living in Zagreb, he was playing for Cibona, so I had a chance to see him play. He was one of the best players for sure.
He opened it up for all the European guys to come play in the NBA. He had, I think, the hardest time coming here, but he overcame all that.
CC: How about some of the American players?
GG: At that time, I think I admired Scottie Pippen and Grant Hill.
CC: And now, who are some of the toughest NBA players to defend against for you?
GG: All these guys can average 20 shots a game, because you know they're going to take their shots and it's very hard to guard them. You know there are two or three screens in a row are coming for you. You have to get ready every game for that job.
Sometimes Allen Iverson plays the two-guard. Ray Allen, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Richard Hamilton. I mean all these guys. So it's a pretty hard job for us to do, for me to do.
CC: Is there a Croatian community in Salt Lake City?
GG: There are lots of Bosnian people. Some Croatians and a little bit Serbs. I hang out with them all. They all helped me out. They helped me a lot when I came the first time there.
I even found a Croatian restaurant, a Croatian guy from Bosnia from around the border between Croatia and Bosnia. His wife is Serbian. Everyday I'm there. It's close to my house. I like it.
CC: Do you ever get calls from people in the Croatian community while you're on the road like in Chicago or New York?
GG: Not really. You know what, I don't have time. Sometimes I don't have the will or I'm tired. I want to rest. Like I said, I want to please everybody, but sometimes you just can't.
I hope no one will take that as a bad thing. Sometimes I just want to stay in my room and watch TV and rest, because I had a tough night, a tough game.
CC: Do you have a family?
GG: I'm divorced, but I have a daughter, Lara. She will be 2 years old in March. She's in Croatia. I can hardly wait to see her.
Right now I'm seeing her over an Internet Web camera. Last night was the first time I saw her on the Web camera, so it was nice.
CC: Anything else you would like to add?
GG: In general everything is good. I like Salt Lake City. It's a great city, very clean. The only bad thing about Salt Lake City is it's far away. When I'm going back home to Croatia, it's pretty far. That's the only bad thing. Everything else for me is perfect.